I don’t have a whole lot to say about President Obama’s withdrawal timetable, officially announced today, other than that it strikes me as hitting the sweet spot on all fronts. I’m a bit surprised at the degree to which the Democratic Congressional leadership criticized the 35-50K residual force from August 2010 to the end of 2011. That sounds like wise and logical contingency planning, every bit as dependent on circumstances (which in this case means amenable to acceleration) as the rest of the timetable. It’s interesting to note that Obama called former president Bush before addressing the Marines at Camp Lejeune. It’s a reflection of how classy he is, but also underlines his determination to make sure the Iraq War stays very much Bush’s war.
I also think that people are exagerrating the chances that we’ll significantly alter this timetable in the event of a downturn — even a major one — in the security situation. At this point, that scenario could only really result from the makings of a civil war. In the context of the “you broke it, you own it” paradigm, Obama has effectively handed back over to the Iraqis what he and American opinion, rightly or wrongly, consider to be a “fixed” Iraq. If it winds up broken again, it will be — politically speaking — their bad. Obama explicitly tied the residual training mission to Iraq’s security forces remaining non-sectarian. But I suspect that caveat will actually kick in once two or three brigades have been drawn down. In other words, this is a one-way ticket, and the only way American forces stay longer or go back to Iraq is to further secure the rest of the withdrawal.
Note: Updated for clarity.